Sunday, September 24, 2023

Historic Triangle or Greater Williamsburg? What’s in a name?

While the term Historic Triangle has persisted in signage, the name is not favored by all. (file photo)
While the term Historic Triangle has persisted in signage, the name is not favored by all. (file photo)

Naming a place isn’t easy. Is that because of the political boundaries, where people physically live, or just plain geography?

For the last decade, the geographic proximity of the historic sites in Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown gave way to the name Historic Triangle.

“The Historic Triangle was really dubbed as part of the 2007, 400th anniversary [of Jamestown],” Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance president Karen Riordan said. “We didn’t want it to be just about Jamestown in 1607 we wanted it to be about everything that we have in the destination.”

The Historic Triangle was a way to denote the first English Colony in Jamestown followed by the colony’s expansion to what is now Williamsburg and finally the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown against Lord Cornwallis.

The opinion of Colonial Williamsburg co-founder Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin can be found in a document now preserved by the National Park Service: “Williamsburg is Jamestown continued, and Yorktown is Williamsburg vindicated.”

While the term Historic Triangle has persisted in signage, the name is not favored by all.

Tourism marketing once stressed greater continuity between the localities, leading to the name Historic Triangle. But times have changed, Riordan said.

From postal addresses to economic development projects and tourism promotions, people say they live in Williamsburg instead of their respective locality, Riordan said.

In some cases, it’s possible to drive from James City County through Williamsburg and to York County in less than one road mile.

Dividing the area up by its political boundaries makes it harder for tourists to find where they need to go in the region, according to Riordan.

“When people talked about this area, they said ‘I want to come to Williamsburg,’” Riordan said. “They didn’t say I want to come to the Historic Triangle or I want to come to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.”

That’s just one of the reasons the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance promotes the area as Greater Williamsburg instead of the Historic Triangle.

“The whole is greater than the sum of the individual three parts,” Riordan said.

The other side of it, is that Greater Williamsburg is more than history.

The area’s burgeoning craft-beverage industry and dining options make it a foodie destination, Riordan said in December.

Tourism is just part of the region’s economy though, but York County Economic Development Authority director Jim Noel said creating a broader regional appeal can help convince some businesses to move to Greater Williamsburg.

The key of economic development is always to get businesses to come visit, Noel said, and telling business leaders to visit industrial sites in Greater Williamsburg has helped bring them to the area as a whole.

“Once we get them here, we show them the best sites or buildings, regardless of which community they’re in,” Noel said. “If James City County has a site, and I have a site we show them both. We promote the best aspects of our individual communities.”

Promoting the entire area’s commercial strengths instead of any one locality’s commercial strengths helps the region’s economy, according to Greater Williamsburg Partnership chairman Tom Tingle.

“Williamsburg is well known, it has got international recognition,” Tingle said.

“While you still have the challenge when you’re local that Greater Williamsburg doesn’t necessarily say York County nor does it say James City County, if you’re going outside the area to attract people to bring their businesses here you’re best to start with something that’s well known and identified,” Tingle said. “That was really the reason to use the Greater Williamsburg term instead of something else.”

In the end though, it’s about regionalizing James City County, Williamsburg and York County into a place anyone in America can recognize, Riordan said.

“This whole destination is a community that’s made up of different localities and municipalities from a legal perspective,” Riordan said before adding. “But we come together as one community.”

To contact the reporter, email

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